3/16/2008

Homeless Moderates and Nomadic Independents

Imagine you are a middle-of-the-road or unaffiliated voter.

You think abortion is morally wrong but should be legal at least in some situations, you have less sympathy for illegal immigrants even though you also realize most of them are otherwise law-abiding people, you want to resolve the Iraq situation quickly and without a rapid pullout, you would accept paying higher taxes if that's what it takes to balance the budget or fund social programs, you do not view the government as an enemy so long as it functions efficiently, you think religious groups have too much influence over the government even though you are religious yourself, you support entitlement reform, you support workers' rights and consumer protections, you strongly believe in personal accountability and condemn handouts, you don't care about identity politics, you think affirmative action should be based more on class rather than race and not be scrapped altogether, you respect the Second Amendment so long as it doesn't defy common sense, you think the war on drugs is a waste of money, you would like the option of having national health insurance even if you don't choose to pay into it, you support federalism, you think politicians should pay more attention to consumers than to businesses, you want a competent and experienced hand at the helm of the nation, and you could care less about partisanship or which political party gets credit for any legislative accomplishments.

Your views are set. You know what's important to you, and you don't care who delivers it. You like some of what the left stands for, and you have no qualms with certain elements of the right. And then you look at the roster of candidates for president this year and shake your head in frustration.

This year, voters have to choose between John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. And many voters, particularly moderates and independents, don't like what they see.

John McCain is the candidate for Republicans, as conservatives really don't have anywhere else to go unless they vote for the Constitution Party nominee.

Barack Obama is the candidate for liberal Democrats. The academia crowd, twenty-somethings, and Blacks are quite comfortable with him.

Hillary Clinton is the candidate for Clinton loyalists. These are Reagan Democrats, women, and older voters. Some of their support for Clinton may be based on resentment of Obama's race, his perceived inexperience, and his maleness.

John McCain seems about right on illegal immigration, personal accountability, entitlement reform, and bipartisanship, but seems to want to continue President Bush's policy regarding Iraq and Iran. This scares you. In addition to this, he is beholden to the religious wing of the Republican Party. As a result, you wonder if abortion rights will become a thing of the past under his administration, courtesy of the departures of Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg and Stevens. This scares you even more.

Barack Obama seems even less partisan than John McCain and sounds good when considering his views on workers' rights, consumer protections, abortion rights, and national health insurance. Then you get queasy when you hear him ascribe more blame to exploitative corporations for illegal immigration than to the illegal immigrants themselves. And you get even more worried because even though his judgment was correct regarding Iraq, saying you were against it from the start doesn't address the reality on the ground now. So you wonder if he is truly up to the job.

Hillary Clinton brings back memories of Bill Clinton, whose presidency you were generally happy with, although you grew tired of the scandals. Having Bill Clinton back in the White House could potentially mean a return to economic prosperity for average people who aren't investors. Hillary Clinton is probably not too different from Bill Clinton, so if you were fond of him, you'd probably approve of her as well. But then you listen to her surrogates slime Barack Obama regarding race, drugs, and religion and you question your desire to reward this kind of campaigning at the ballot box and go through four more years of kneecap politics, four more years of potential scandals, and four more years of "us vs. them" rhetoric even though the Bush presidency has shown that this is not healthy for the country.

Where do moderates and independents go? It's as if McCain, Obama, and Clinton are akin to the game of paper, rock, and scissors. McCain is good on immigration (he's a hardliner without being a neanderthal about it), but poor on Iraq (we can't stay there indefinitely while we drain our treasury). Clinton is good on Iraq (she's advocating a cautious and responsible redeployment), but poor on unity (nobody likes her and her political opponents will try to block her every move). Obama is good on unity (it's his signature issue), but weak on immigration (he seems to be more of an advocate for illegal immigrants than actual citizens). This brings us back to McCain.

McCain is good on entitlement reform (revamping welfare and curbing spending), but poor on abortion rights (his Supreme Court nominees would presumably severely restrict them). Clinton is good on abortion rights (she's a woman; she understands), but poor on healthcare (nobody should be mandated to do anything). Obama is good on healthcare (no mandates), but poor on entitlement reform (he's a traditional liberal). This brings us back to McCain again.

McCain is good on personal accountability (it's a signature issue for Republicans), but poor on the economy (he seems to favor the fiscal health of the stock market more than the fiscal health of regular people). Clinton is good on the economy (the 90s were great for a lot of people), but poor on ethics (the 90s were also embarrassing for a lot of people). Obama is good on ethics (so long as there isn't much more to the Tony Rezko and Jeremiah Wright stories), but poor on personal accountability (he seems to place more of the blame for the subprime loan mess on predatory loan companies, rather than fiscally irresponsible consumers). And yes, that brings us back to the senator from Arizona.

In short, a lot of McCain's semi-conservative positions seem practical and fair. But his war positions and social conservatism make many middle-of-the-road voters uncomfortable.

Hillary Clinton would probably bring back the good parts of the 90s and benefit a lot of middle- and lower-class people. But she would also bring back the bad parts of the 90s, as a lot of people have already been put off by her 2008 campaign.

Barack Obama represents the future and could dramatically change the way Americans and international observers look at the United States. But he is an unproven and unknown quantity whose positions on a few key issues are a bit more liberal than what they are comfortable with.

Hardcore Republicans and partisan Democrats will support their respective nominees, even if grudgingly. But moderates don't really have a candidate, as all three remaining candidates could potentially draw large numbers of them. McCain is more of a center-right Republican rather than a hard-right Republican. Clinton can capture blue-collar Reagan Democrats who lean liberal on economic issues and lean conservative on social issues. And Obama can win over moderates and independents by virtue of presenting himself as a post-political nonpartisan.

What does all of this mean? It means that 2008 could be like 1992 in that there is ample room for a credible independent candidate. However, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg poured cold water on speculation that he would run for president and the Unity '08 initiative seems to have stalled. Lou Dobbs has yet to slam the door on his own presidential run, but it's looking increasingly unlikely.

Knowing this, there's a potential windfall of support that awaits the candidate (McCain, Clinton, or Obama) who is best able to placate the majority of voters who don't reside beyond the political 30-yard lines. Given the the unpopularity of Iraq, the reservations voters have about Obama's qualifications, and the ability of Hillary Clinton to triangulate, it would seem that Clinton has the most to gain in terms of moderates' support. Most of her political problems stem not from ideology, but rather ethics and virtue. This seems easier to remedy than one's voting history or lack thereof.

Then again, even though voters commonly decry negative politics, the fact remains that such politics can be highly effective. Hillary Clinton may be at low tide right now, but if she is somehow able to wrest the nomination away from Barack Obama, it is quite possible that she can make amends with the Democratic base and expand it in time for the general election. A lot of attention is currently being paid to identity politics and various demographic groups, but the true electoral gold lies with moderates who feel a bit ignored and independents who have yet to be enthused.

7 comment(s):

Nikki said...

Hey Anthony......I think none of the candidates are 100% percent on the mark for anyone this year, except for maybe Obama who seems to be perfect in many eyes. My candidate was gone long ago and I felt ripped that he got dissected on personality flaws and flip flop taglines.......but it is what it is I suppose. Also this election started so early it seems as though the weeding out should have been better.....I will support McCain and even though I am not 100% with his policies we see i 2 i on the big ones in my book.....as was with Bush I will not nit pick him to death on the trivial. I have too much ADD to get that detailed. hehe. :)N

Thomas said...

Hey Anthony, did you win the scholarship?

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

all i can say is it has only just started

Reginald Harrison Williams said...

Thomas,

Yes, he did!

I am so excited about this.

Congratulations, Anthony!!!!

Thomas said...

Congrats, Anthony! We all knew you could do it!

Anthony Palmer said...

Nikki,

Yes, no politician is ever 100% in line with a voter's views, so it's best to choose one who has the most of what you want. The problem is, for a lot of us in the middle or independents, all three candidates have about 60% of what we want. That's different from one candidate having 80% of what you want while the opponent has about 15%. McCain, Clinton, and Obama all have attractive strengths and qualities, but 40% is a lot of garbage to have to put up with.

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Torrance,

I'm pretty sure someone else is going to jump in the race. The Democratic race is sheer madness. As for the GOP, I get the sense that a lot of Republicans think of McCain as a somewhat more moderate Bob Dole.

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Thomas and RHW,

Yes! And thank you all for your support!

Steve Johnson said...

Congratulations Anthony! Happy for you.

By the way, the independents might get an option after all. Jesse Ventura. haha.

http://www.reason.com/blog/show/125517.html